India delays plans to open frontier with Pakistan to aid quake victims
MUZAFFARABAD, Pakistan – India on Saturday sharply curtailed plans to open its Kashmir frontier with Pakistan early this week to aid earthquake survivors – a setback for the disaster diplomacy that has brought the nuclear-armed rivals closer in a time of need.Meanwhile, forecasts of snow on the Pakistani side of the disputed Himalayan territory added to the ordeal for hundreds of thousands of survivors still without shelter nearly a month after the quake, as U.N. and other aid agencies struggle with limited budgets to deliver help before winter.After the Oct. 8 quake killed about 80,000 people across Pakistan and the divided territory of Kashmir, India and Pakistan reached a breakthrough agreement to open five border crossings starting Monday.But India said Saturday that only one crossing would be ready – a blow for survivors eager to cross over to check on relatives, exchange provisions and seek help at relief camps being set up along the heavily militarized frontier.Indian army spokesman Lt. Col. V. K. Batra said that two crossings were not ready because of the threat of land mines and landslides on the Indian side, but he also blamed Pakistan for delays in clearing another two routes, saying its work on bridges at the crossings was incomplete.Pakistani officials, however, said their side was ready to open the crossings.”All preparations on the Pakistan side are complete at the designated places,” Pakistan’s army said in a statement.The Indian Foreign Ministry said two of the crossings may be opened by the middle of next week.In Muzaffarabad, capital of the Pakistan-controlled part of Kashmir, Deputy Police Chief Ata Ullah said diplomats from both countries had been slated to meet Saturday to exchange a list of names of people intending to cross over – but the meeting was canceled. He did not explain why.Ullah said the cancellation raised doubt about whether any crossings would take place at all on Monday, even at the border post India said was ready.Kashmir was split between India and Pakistan after the bloody partition of the subcontinent following independence from Britain in 1947. Both countries claim all of Kashmir in a dispute that has sparked two wars and kept families separated for more than half a century.The two sides began a peace process last year, and last month’s frontier agreement helped the warming of ties, raising hope among many survivors that they would be able to check whether lost relatives had survived the magnitude 7.6 quake.”Hundreds of us are planning to go,” said Mirza Irslan, a resident in the Pakistani Kashmir village of Chinari. “We have no telephone lines, no way of knowing they are safe. This is our only chance.”Chinari residents had planned to embark over the weekend on a 30-mile walk through the Himalayas to one of the border crossings, but those plans were thrown into doubt by India’s announcement.The quake left more than 3 million people homeless – a particular concern with the fierce winter approaching.The U.N. estimates that 800,000 people are without shelter, 200,000 of them in remote, mostly high-altitude hamlets not yet reached by any aid workers.”Hypothermia is very definitely a health risk,” said World Health Organization spokeswoman Sacha Bootsma. “It’s a main concern.”Some snow already has fallen at elevations of about 10,000 feet, and on Saturday, Pakistan’s Meteorological Department said more was likely in the next few days at elevations as low as 5,000 feet. In the highest mountain hamlets, temperatures were expected to dip to 10 degrees, the department said.The United Nations, which warned on Oct. 28 that it would need to reduce its relief missions soon due to underfunding, will announce details of its cutbacks on Tuesday, exactly a month after the quake, said spokeswoman Amanda Pitt.She declined to reveal any details Saturday, but said the U.N. has received only a quarter of the $550 million it needs for humanitarian operations in the quake-ravaged area for the next six months.Pakistan’s president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, on Friday appealed to the world to be as generous with quake survivors as they were for victims of Asia’s tsunami and Hurricane Katrina.—Associated Press Writer Nirmala George contributed to this report from New Delhi, India.